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Abolition of the Death Penalty: A Tough Road ahead for India

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The movement against the death penalty in present-day India faces a tremendous challenge in terms of extensive public clamour for swift executions, removal of appeals, and even support for summary executions. 
With the imminent execution of the four convicts in the Delhi gang rape and murder case against the background of reactions to incidents in Hyderabad, Kathua and Unnao, harsher punishments are receiving tremendous public support, and politicians are only happy to oblige. The Supreme Court has issued administrative orders (1) to hear death sentence cases faster amidst misplaced concerns in the public that death row prisoners have too many loopholes in the law to exploit.
Framing the death penalty as a political–legal issue in India is not easy. Located within the wider spectrum of social and state violence in India, the exceptional nature of the cruelty of the death penalty is difficult to establish. 
The suffering inflicted by the death penalty is the constant and daily uncerta…

Former French President Giscard d'Estaing voices 'no regrets' over Ranucci execution

Former French President
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
In an interview to be aired this week on French television, former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, 84, says that he feels "no regrets" for allowing the execution of Christian Ranucci in 1976. 

Christian Ranucci, 22, was guillotined after he was convicted of kidnapping and killing 8-year-old Marie-Dolorès Rambla. Ranucci proclaimed his innocence until he was executed at dawn in Marseilles' Beaumettes prison. His last words were to his lawyers: 'Rehabilitate me!', he said.

"Ranucci was guilty, he had been sentenced to death by a jury, the punishment needed to be carried out," the former President says about the controversial Ranucci case.

"I do not regret my decision. The case files (...) and the trials proved that he was guilty," the former French President says in the interview.

A tight election race, high pro-death penalty ratings in opinion polls after similar abduction-and-murder cases occurred in France contributed to Giscard d'Estaing turning a blind eye to some of the case's inconsistencies and ultimately rejecting Ranucci's clemency plea, the film's authors suggest.

Christian Ranucci was executed on 28 July 1976 for kidnapping and killing a young girl two years earlier. He claimed his innocence throughout the trial, although he initially confessed to the crime. He later recanted, arguing that his confession had been obtained under duress after being interrogated for 17 hours.

Christian Ranucci
Ranucci's lawyers pointed out several discrepancies in the case, such as finding no evidence of the child's presence in Ranucci's car, conflicting and varying eyewitness testimonies, discarded exculpating evidence and testimonies, potential tampering with evidence by the Marseilles police, and prosecution malpractice.

These discrepancies and inconsistencies became the prime material used by journalist and writer Gilles Perrault in his book, "Le Pull-Over Rouge" (The Red Sweater). Perrault questions Ranucci's guilt, suggests that the investigation was botched and claims that Ranucci was executed despite "extremely inconclusive evidence" because the country needed swift action.

Christian Ranucci was tried in Aix-en-Provence on March 9-March 10, 1976 and sentenced to death. His appeal for a second trial was overturned by a higher court on June 16. President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing refused to commute Ranucci's death sentence.

Ironically, a local television station that had been misinformed by an erroneous Agence France-Presse dispatch mistakenly announced on the eve of the execution that Ranucci's death sentence had been commuted. Prison officers who had watched the TV news bulletin rushed to inform Ranucci that his life had been spared. Over half an hour later, a presidential press release officially denied that claim.

Christian Ranucci was the first of the last three death row inmates executed in France. Although Giscard d'Estaing had publicly stated before his election that he "felt a deep loathing for the death penalty" and wished to have it replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole, he allowed three executions to be carried out during his tenure, Christian Ranucci in 1976, then Jérôme Carrein and Hamida Djandoubi in 1977, while he commuted four death sentences to life in prison.

These were the last executions carried out in France. Hamida Djandoubi was the last death-row inmate executed in France.

Capital punishment was abolished in France in 1981 after François Mitterrand became President of France. Mitterrand urged his then Justice Minister and renowned abolitionist Robert Badinter to draft a Bill providing for the abolishment of the death penalty and its replacement with life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Mr. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing also says in tonight's interview that he would "probably" have maintained the death penalty if he had been re-elected as President of France in 1981. "I think that I would not have made the decision [to seek the abolition of the death penalty]", he says. He also says that he remains "careful" about [abolishing the death penalty], even after so many years.

"To me, the death penalty was legitimized by its deterrence value. I am on the side of victims for one very simple reason, and that is because victims can't talk. And when the victims are children or frail, abused or tortured women, I think that it is no longer tolerable and that deterrence must be put into practice."

Sources: AFP & Death Penalty News staff, October 11, 2010

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